NOW Celebrate Women Peacemakers: Democratic Republic of Congo

History of Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Congo has a long and complicated history. From colonization and military coups to rebellions and CIA operations to overthrow democratically elected officials, the history of the Congo has been a story of violence and armed conflict from its inception.  The current conflict in the Congo is the deadliest since the Second World War, some have called it Africa’s world war, and it may have become the forgotten humanitarian crisis. Since 1998, more than six million people have died, over two million people have been forced to flee their homes, and over 40,000 Congolese have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls, some as young as just a couple of months, have been kidnapped, raped, and tortured; sexual violence has also started to be used against men, in an effort to emasculate them.  Even though a peace deal and transitional government was formed in 2003, armed militias, gangs, and the army continue to terrorize the country.

The way in which sexual violence is used in the Congo is ineffable – women and children are being attacked by multiple men, often in public and in front of their husbands, children and neighbors, and after, the rapists sometimes fire their guns in to the women’s vaginas. The purpose of this is not just to abuse women, but also to destroy the Congolese community, and to traumatize and humiliate people. Once women are raped, their husbands, and often their communities, will shun and even disown them. Armed groups use violence and rape to force civilians to leave mining areas so that they can exploit the lucrative millions – specifically coltan (also known as tantalum), as well as tin, and tungsten, known as the “3 T’s”.

Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading these conflict minerals, money that is used for both personal profit and to further the violence by purchasing arms and ammunition. Conflict minerals are smuggled out of the Congo through neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, shipped to smelters around the world for refinement, and end up in consumer products. Processed and converted coltan is sold to companies such as Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Dell, IBM, Ericsson and Sony, among others. Like the blood diamonds in Sierra Leone, these conflict minerals perpetuate the violence, and our demand for electronic good, cell phones and smart phones, laptops, digital cameras, pagers, TVs, iPods, iPads, game consoles such as Xbox, Nintendo and Playstation, connects us to the suffering.

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Women Peacemakers Give Voice to the Voiceless

 Sylvie Maunga Mbanga

She is a trained lawyer who works in the fight against sexual violence against women in the eastern region of Congo. She is the coordinator of the program against sexual violence for the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) and Church in Action, as well as the program officer for peacebuilding and conflict transformation program at the Life and Peace Institute. She also provides counseling and legal services to victims of rape and sexual violence. With the ICCO, she develops strategic and holistic interventions to assist victims, including the provision of psychological counseling and medical care, legal services and access to the judicial system, and economic support in the form of income-generating activities and skills building.

Action Steps